Friday 16 March 2012

Towards a local approach to economic revival

I met Ted Howard earlier in the week, but sadly missed his seminar last night.  On the other hand, and thanks to him, I do now feel geared up to battle for a more local approach to reviving the economy - where it really matters.

The visit was organised by Clare Goff of New Start magazine who wrote en excellent profile of Howard and his Evergreen project in Cleveland, Ohio.  This is Neil NcInroy's blog about last night's event.

Cleveland is the American city worst hit by the sub-prime mortgage crisis.  There are two major economic players still active there. The university and the hospital.  To put the hospital to better economic use, they have borrowed an idea from one of the great success stories of co-operative business, in Mondragon in Spain.

The Mondragon story dates back to just after the Second World War, when the local Catholic priest founded the first worker’s co-op to employ local people and meet local needs.  Half a century on, there are now 256 linked co-operative businesses, employing nearly 100,000 people and with offshoots worldwide, and they have been doing even better during the global downturn.  So much so that the US steelworkers union have signed a long-term agreement to do something similar in North America.

The Evergreen Project is doing this in Cleveland, but clustered around and dependent on the hospital, starting with a sustainable laundry business.  The second project is a renewable energy company, starting with installations on the hospital roof.

So two elements here. The new co-operatives that employ local people and redirecting the spending power of the local hospital to launch them and underpin them.

This is about money, but money that already exists. Again it isn’t about how much you’ve got. It’s about how it flows.

Conventional thinking suggests that money will trickle down from the successful to eventually employ the unsuccessful - especially if they leave their communities in their bikes to find work.  We know of course that trickle down doesn't work, and have known for decades.  As for expecting people to move their families to find work, I don't believe a society which forces people to be that footloose is going to be stable or liberal.

We have to somehow find ways of re-growing local economies, using local resources, rather than waiting around for government or corporate largesse that will probably never come.  I believe Evergreen has shown how to do it.

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